June 5 is World Environment Day.

Every day we’re informed that our planet is dying, that we as a species are hurtling towards our end; our natural resources despite being bolstered by ever-changing technology are running out.  Most of us however, don’t take the doomsayers voices seriously, living in denial that the world will survive. The truth is that if we don’t shape up soon, the earth won’t be fit for inhabitation anymore.

The first World Environment Day was celebrated in 1973 to spread awareness about the environment and the need to preserve our biodiversity. Besides wiping out other species, the changing environment is wreaking havoc to our health and well-being. The theme this year is Think.Eat.Save, which is a campaign designed to minimise food loss and reduce food wastage. The major aim is to encourage people across the world not to waste food and also to realise how food production affects other natural resources and harms the environment. Saving food will help save resources and perhaps even allow those unable to afford food items access to them.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1.3 billion tonnes of food, about one-third of the global food production is either wasted or lost. Food wastage is sacrilegious in India considering, so many of us are unable to get two square meals a day. The situation is so endemic that it’s believed that every other child in India is stunted due to malnutrition.

Some stark facts about food wastage

  • 33% of all the food produce globally doesn’t reach human mouths – it’s either lost in transit or wasted by consumers.
  • Developed nations like the US and European countries throw away 222 million tonnes of edible food ever year which is almost equal to what sub-Saharan Africa consumes!
  • India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat annually due to inadequate storage and distribution.
  • Most food is wasted by just 30% of the population who earn more than Rs 100 a month. A lot of it is wasted during various events like weddings, births, deaths and other social events and holidays.
  • This is even more shocking considering every other child in India is stunted due to malnutrition and India ranks 15th from last in the global hunger index.

How did the situation get so bad?

Despite being a country perfectly suited for agriculture we still can’t manage to feed every citizen. That some people are getting all the food they need and more is evident from the rising number of diabetes, heart disease and obesity-related cases in urban India but there remains a large segment of population (as high as 80%) who don’t have access to two square meals a day. The Food Security Bill currently waiting to be implemented will look to provide heavily subsidised food to 80% of the country’s population will look to address the issue head on. The bigger question is how is it feasible that 66 years after Independence we’re still unable to provide food to 80% of the population?

The Department of Industry Promotion and Planning (DIPP) claims that losses of farm produce every year are estimated to be over Rs 1 trillion (1,00,000 crore) per annum of which 57% percent is due to avoidable wastage and the rest due to costs of storage and commissions. One of the reasons for this there isn’t enough storing capacity. While every year 180 million metres a year of fruits, vegetables and other perishables are grown, India has only a storing capacity of 23.6 million metres in cold storage units. That means that no matter how much food we produce, we’ll never have place to store it for a long period of time.

In its study on food losses and waste, the FAO cautioned that while increasing food production is paramount to meet the future increase in final demand, ‘tensions between production and access to food can also be reduced by tapping into the potential to reduce food losses’.  The recommendation went that ‘actions shouldn’t only be directed towards isolated parts of the chain, since what is done in one part has effects in others’.

The real problem is plugging those leaks – the corruption, the hoarding, food lost in transition and the tonnes of food items that rot – remaining inaccessible to the ones who need it. Even if the Food Security Bill was passed, we would have to hope that this Rs 600,000 crore that is supposed to be spent doesn’t become part of another mega scam. Or else we would only be harming the environment and increasing the woes of our countrymen by creating even more food that will go to waste and not reach the mouths it’s supposed to feed.